Attraction expenses can really add up, but affordable options are out there. Look for national, state and municipal parks, nature centers and museums. Also search for free, corporate-sponsored evenings at popular cultural institutions. If you do your research, you”ll find fun places where admission costs less than $10 per person. Following is a sampling of 20 attractions we found across the U.S., representing a range of entertainment for the whole family, including zoos, museums, historic sites, factory tours and science centers.
Written by Traci L. Suppa
Nearly 90 wild animals live at this conservation and rescue facility located in Burlington, N.C., a little less than an hour outside of Greensboro. This isn"t a walk-through zoo; your visit is on a guided, themed tour. â€œWhiskers & Tails,â€ for example, is a 45-minute tour geared toward young children.
Rates: Themed tours are priced individually, with fees starting at $10 per person for the â€œWhiskers & Tailsâ€ tour. Children"s prices on the other, longer tours are $10 or less.
This venue built for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Park City remains a training center, recreational facility and museum, and is free to visit. It"s fun to watch the daredevils at the Freestyle Training Pool, or explore the nature trails. You can also look at the displays of Olympic medals and the giant animal puppets used during the opening ceremonies. Fee-based adventure activities include the Comet bobsled ride, two zip lines and the Alpine Slide.
Rates: Adults: $10; children 4 to 18: $5; children 3 and under: free.
Goldfield Ghost Town
There"s no charge to walk the dusty Main Street of Apache Junction, Ariz., a reconstructed 1890s â€œOld Westâ€ town, which was an actual gold mining town on the Apache Trail, a little less than one hour from Phoenix and Scottsdale. For small fees, you can tour the historic Mammoth Gold Mine, visit the Goldfield Museum, pan for gold and ride on Arizona's only narrow gauge train. On weekends, the Goldfield Gunfighters put on free shows with cowboy and cowgirl characters protecting the bank from robbers.
Rates: Admission for shows and activities range from $1 to $8 per person.
This historical attraction in Henderson, Nev., includes a modern exhibit hall spotlighting southern Nevada from pre-historic to modern times. The 30-acre site also includes a collection of restored historic buildings from different decades in Las Vegas, Boulder City, Henderson and Goldfield. You"ll see the 1880 Tuscarora Jail, a replica newspaper print shop from the early 1900"s, the 1932 Boulder City Depot and a 1950"s red barn.
Designed for children ages 1 to 11, this museum in Providence, Rhode Island offers two floors of hands-on, play-filled exhibits and programs that explore history, science, arts and culture, such as The Children"s Garden, Underland, Strings Attached and Play Power. Water Ways is an expansive water table with fountains, boats, and other toys. The Coming to Rhode Island exhibit looks at the state"s immigrants from different periods of history.
Rates: Adults and children: $9; babies under 12 months: free
Part museum, part attraction, the PEZ Visitor Center is a new addition to the candy-manufacturing facility in Orange, Conn., which has been making PEZ for the American market since 1974. You"re greeted by a 12-foot tall PEZ dispenser, display cases, signage and several interactive exhibits for kids, including a touch-screen PEZ trivia game kiosk, a dispenser personalization station and a video station in which you can record a greeting and email it to friends and family. On weekdays, you can watch the production floor.
Rates: Adults: $5; kids 3 to 12: $4; children under 3: free
An enthusiastic â€œbear ambassadorâ€ will lead your 30-minute factory tour, where you"ll learn about â€œBuddy,â€ the first bear born in the Shelburne, Vermont factory in 1981, and all the â€œflavorsâ€ they come in, from honey and vanilla to buttercream and dark chocolate. You"ll view the progressive stages of production, from cutting fur and sewing to stuffing and dressing. Your memento is a 5-inch â€œbutton bearâ€ cut from scrap fur. The tour ends in a gift shop with a station to make your own bear, which will be presented with a birth certificate, bow tie and travel box.
Rates: Adults and children 13 and older: $4. Kids 12 and under: free.
This sight is dedicated to treating and rehabilitating stranded or injured sea turtles and seals. The Marine Animal Discovery Center and gift shop in Buzzards Bay, Mass., just a short drive from the Falmouth/Woods Hole area, is open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, and on select weekends throughout the rest of the year. Exhibits allow kids to touch and feel bones, baleen and shells, a critter tank, and displays of whale bones and skeletons. Craft activities change daily and include stamping T-shirts, making paper sea turtles or painting a picture.
More than 100 years old, this popular sight offers a tranquil respite in New York City. Covering 52 acres, the themed gardens feature world-class collections of plants. Kids can tend their own garden plots in the Children"s Garden, take special tours led by kids or take nocturnal critter walks. Schedule your visit to take advantage of seasonal public programs and other discovery workshops.
Rates: Adults and children 12 and older: $10; children 11 and under: free.
Home to almost 45,000 objects spanning 6,000 years, this is one of Cleveland"s and the country"s top comprehensive art museums. Several programs are geared toward families, including â€œArt Stories,â€ a weekly program that combines children's books and activities with art from the CMA collection; Sunday afternoon hands-on â€œArt Cartâ€ experiences; and monthly â€œStroller Tours.â€
Rates: Museum collections are free to visit, though there is a charge for some special exhibitions and events, like Family Game Night.
In this expansive, three-floor venue in the heart of St. Louis, you can visit 10 main galleries and exhibits at no charge. In the Life Science Lab, you can participate in hands-on experiments, and in the Experience Energy Gallery, you can design an energy-efficient city online. You can program a LEGO Mindstorm robot in Cyberville. There is a charge for special exhibits, such as the planetarium, â€œDinosaurs in Motion,â€ and the IMAX theater.
Rates: Free for the 10 main galleries, though there is a charge for special exhibits
Located in the Black Hills region, the world's largest mammoth research facility is also a Pleistocene research center, with world-renowned displays of ice-age fossils. You can tour an active paleontological dig site, or visit the indoor fossil exhibits of mammoths, bears, camels, llamas and prairie dogs. A full-sized mammoth model and walk-in mammoth bone hut are the most popular exhibits.
Rates: Adults and children 13 and older: $10; kids 4 to 12: $8; children 3 and under: free.
You have several choices of trains -- including steam, diesel and electric -- to ride at the country"s largest railroad museum, located in Union, Ill. During special events, you can also ride vintage traction equipment, streetcars and trolleys. Thomas the Tank Engine appears in August.
Rates: Free for access to the grounds; unlimited ride tickets: $10 for adults and $7 for children, except for weekends in the summer months when they are $14 and $10, respectively.
The Museum of Natural History
This facility, part of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point in Stevens Point, Wis., is free to visit and features exhibits in biology, geology, anthropology and archaeology. Highlights include a full-size Allosaurus skeleton, life-like African savanna and waterhole exhibits, a Wisconsin raptors exhibit, geologic rocks and minerals collections, and wildlife dioramas.
Located on a 35-acre site in suburban Duluth, Ga., just outside of Atlanta, this museum is a must for train fans, with about 90 train cars, including historic Pullman cars and classic steam locomotives. You can ride in restored antique diesel locomotives, tour the car used by President Warren G. Harding, or climb through a decommissioned airport â€œpeople mover.â€ Seasonal events like â€œTrain or Treatâ€ include additional entertainment.
Rates: Adults: $8; kids 2 to 12: $5; children under 2: free
It"s not the same as the Space Needle in Seattle, but this 407-foot steel tower is where you go for 360-degree views of Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains beyond. Your ticket allows you to ride one of the two 20-passenger glass elevators up to the open-air observation deck. The needle is adjacent to Arcadia, a 25,000-square-foot family arcade.
Rates: Adults: $8.50; kids 5 to 12: $4; children 4 and under: free.
This drive-through nature preserve in Huntsville, Ala., is home to free-range exotic and endangered animals. As you travel the 2-mile route, you"ll see zebras, buffalo, camels, monkeys, ostriches, pythons, rams, alligators and water fowl. You can get out of your car to spend time at the Reptile House and picnic grounds.
Rates: Adults and kids 2 and older: $8; children under 2: free
For some stargazing on Wednesday, Friday or Saturday nights in Fort Lauderdale, head to the campus of Broward College, home to one of the most advanced planetariums in South Florida. You can watch a sky presentation in the planetarium, or look through a telescope in the observatory. The shows include: â€œStories for a Starry Night,â€ â€œSolar System Odyssey,â€ and â€œEarth, Moon, and Sun.â€
Rates: Admission to the various shows ranges from $4 to $6 per person.